I completed the 62 mile Gravel Grovel today in southern Indiana. For those in Michigan, this is similar to the Barry-Roubaix. They also do a 25 mile fun ride. The course is set up with several out&back loops so it was fun to see the really fast guys come blasting down the road as you follow the route.
The course was marked well. The facilities were good too. Apparently needing to move at the last minute, the finish ceremonies and post race meal were held at the Midwest Riders Horse camp.
The weather was partly cloudy and cold at the 10am start with temperature approximately 25 degrees. It never got above 32 degrees, I think. My team will be happy to know I dressed appropriately- base layer, Devil Dancer jersey, thermal jacket and Devil Dancer windbreaker. Oh, and leg warmers as well as neoprine coverings on the shoes. The wind was quite bitter but I was pretty comfortable most of the race. I’d spoke to James Gomez of the Cross Country Racing team before the event. He was doing the race on tandem with his wife Laura. (They did great, taking second place in tandem category to an all male team). He had done the event the previous year and noted that flats were endemic on this race. Also many of the forest roads were covered in crushed limestone gravel and sketchy on the fast downhills.
There was a modest neutral roll out on pavement from the start site on pavement after which we hit gravel. Things were going fine until mile five at which point, on a climb, my chain jumped off the largest rear cassette and jammed between it and the spokes. It took me more than fifteen minutes to dislodge it. I then tweaked the rear derailleur settings and begin riding. Not much later I started getting a leak in the rear tire. I had three air canisters and one spare tube. I stopped again and used one air unit to pump up the tire. I had to repeat this later and finally at mile 21 I ended up stopping to replace the rear tube, filling it with the last air canister I had. I was now only 1/3rd into the course and out of supplies. Worse yet, I’d left my glasses as the site where I repaired the tire so I have now lost my decent Tifosi riding glasses- Dammit.
At mile 30, I spoke to another rider, who was from Lansing. He was trying to repair his rear tire as well enough to get to a main road to get a ride back. After a short chat, during which I contemplated also dropping out, I ultimately decided to complete the event.
Between mile 30 and the last checkpoint at mile 41 (also an out & back section) the course went really off-road past a national forest gate and onto what was effectively a mountain bike trail. It was about a 4 mile section with the middle dominated by a huge serious climb. (The climb was the same from both directions). I started up the hill and rode about 2/3rds of the way and then decided to walk the rest of the way to the peak. There were racers coming down the hill fast and the point I opted to walk had very little visibility as they shot over a hump near the peak. It was safer for all to walk, as well as tough in cross bike gearing. As I neared the top there riders were there and two jumped on their bikes after the walk and headed downhill before I could pass them. I ended up riding their wheels as they braked all the way down. Eventually, I passed them on a flat single track section and rode away handling my cross bike like a mountain bike in this technical section. The section ended at another gate and onto pavement about 6-7 miles to the last checkpoint at mile 41.
Barring another flat I was now sure I’d finish but the question was- how long would it take. The last ten miles was steady climbs, not steep, but the roads this time, more so than any others so far, were completely coated in a layer of crushed gravel limestone and it was like riding in sand. Many of the climbs in the course were tough, but some were tough mostly because one couldn’t stand up on the climb due to the gravel, which would simply spin the back wheel and you’d be walking.
The course ended back at the horse camp by riding across a shallow stream.
My final time was a long 5hours 50 minutes- a far cry from the “under five hours” target I’d set for myself and I know I lost about 45 minutes to flats and mechanical issues.
If I did the event again though I’d carry two tubes, three air canisters as well as a manual pump and a patch kit.